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Triggers and Cravings

Understanding the Pink Cloud Phase in Recovery

June 21, 2023
10 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 21, 2023
10 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 21, 2023
10 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 21, 2023
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 21, 2023
10 min read

You may have heard the term used by other people in recovery and been baffled. You walk out of a meeting wondering, “What is pink clouding?”

“Pink cloud” refers to a certain phase of recovery from alcohol misuse. But is the so-called "pink cloud phase" a tangible phenomenon –– or just recovery folklore? Buckle in, as we look at the colorful journey of recovery –– and separate fact from myth on “pink clouding.”

What Does “Pink Clouding” Mean?

In recovery circles, “pink cloud” or “pink cloud syndrome” is both lingo and metaphor, one used to describe an early phase of recovery in which withdrawal sets in and we're enveloped in an almost surreal sense of happiness and optimism. But is this high-flying phenomenon grounded in science?

Recent research in the field of addiction neuroscience suggests it could be. As we step away from drinking, our brain starts to recover, healing and rewiring itself. These changes can trigger mood swings, including bursts of joy and euphoria –– like a child's first bite into a pink cotton candy cloud at a summer fair.

That first month or two of recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD) marks a time of commitment and optimism because, typically, things are going well. Our commitment is fresh, and positive changes are coming quickly.

Additionally, as the brain recovers and changes, it gets more efficient at producing dopamine, one of our brain’s feel-good chemicals. Pink clouding is this period when our spirits lift, our confidence soars, and we are on cloud nine — or, well, a pink cloud.

What Is Pink Clouding Syndrome?

“Pink clouding syndrome” is the phrase sometimes used to describe this overly confident state of mind. It’s marked by a number of characteristic symptoms:

  • Euphoria
  • Positive feelings about the ability to stay in recovery
  • Disconnection from negative emotions
  • Decreased perception of our need for support
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Minimization of potential triggers
  • Unrealistic optimism

While being on the “pink cloud” might feel great, the signs near the end of that list tell us that there may be a downside to excessive optimism. Being aware of and understanding this phenomenon can help us navigate through it more effectively, paving the way for a more grounded and realistic approach to long-term recovery. Let’s explore the way this “descent” happens in more detail.

Signs of Pink Clouding

When and How Does the Pink Cloud Start and End

The pink cloud tends to start in the early weeks or months of recovery and ends as reality sets in. For some, it might last a few weeks, for others — several months. Regardless, there’s usually a “descent” to come, and it can be jarring when it happens.

The danger of the pink cloud phase lies in thinking the journey is over or that the first happy months represent the whole recovery experience. It's like mistaking the joy of summiting a hill for the triumph of conquering a mountain. Even though we’re in the pink cloud, recovery isn’t over. The descent from the pink cloud, when reality begins to seep in, can be steep and slippery. 

We need to remember this is part of the work. These fluctuations are part of the human experience and a normal part of recovery.

While it’s not everyone’s journey, some of us crash from the pink cloud and enter post acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This happens because of the ongoing chemical shifts in our brain as it finds new balance in the absence of alcohol. 

PAWS is often an unpleasant phase, with a range of symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Memory lapses
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety 
  • Lower sex drive
  • Depression

If you feel like you are going through PAWS, reach out for help — you’re not alone! It can be uncomfortable –– but that’s part of the work of recovery.

Maintaining Perspective on the Pink Cloud

Science suggests that the pink cloud phase is more than just a figment of our imagination — it's a science-backed experience and a real part of the recovery process. Yet it's crucial that we don't view it as the end of the journey, but rather a scenic vista along our path to recovery.

How do we keep our balance on this colorful journey, then? First, let's celebrate these moments of euphoria — they're signs of healing and resilience. Yet let's also remind ourselves that it's okay to descend from the pink cloud. Clouds are ephemeral, but our commitment to recovery is enduring. Plus, there are plenty of fun and mood-boosting things to do that don’t involve alcohol!

When you’re floating on the pink cloud, focus on small ways you can help support your own journey. Small changes like getting enough sleep, eating more vegetables and fruits, and starting a new exercise routine can go a long way to setting yourself up for continued success when you’re not flying so high.

If you sense a descent coming, don’t hesitate to reach out to friends, family, support groups, or professionals. Reframe can also be a great source of community along your path. Let's keep our feet on the ground, our eyes on the horizon, and our spirits resilient, even when the pink cloud fades. It's part of our incredible, colorful journey towards a brighter, healthier future. 

Making the Most out of Pink Clouding

All in all, the pink cloud might not be permanent, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful! It can be a great jumpstart for the recovery process, providing us the boost of motivation we can use to build momentum.

Specifically, we can use this time to set realistic goals and connect with others in recovery who will be there for us when things get tough. We can also work on developing healthy coping strategies as we prepare for the possible challenges ahead.

In the end, the pink cloud phase is an opportunity to build a solid foundation for the months and years to come!

Harness the Energy and Thrive With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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